Consultation was clumsy’

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council has apologised for its clumsy and inadequate early consultations on plans to change the way it runs day centres in March and Wisbech for those with learning disabilities. The apology came from Linda Butler, head of disabili

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council has apologised for its "clumsy and inadequate" early consultations on plans to change the way it runs day centres in March and Wisbech for those with learning disabilities.

The apology came from Linda Butler, head of disability services, as she unveiled the recommendations that will now go forward to the council's cabinet later this year outlining the way forward for all seven day centres across Cambridgeshire.

Massive changes are under way but the council is not expecting there to be a countywide based solution; instead they will focus on finding town-by-town solutions to how the centres operate and who will run them.

But the review will still mean massive changes for those using the centre as the county council moves to save some of the £3million a year spent for providing just 300 places in seven centres. About 80 staff are employed by the council across all seven centres and these too will be affected by the shake-up.

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At a special briefing at Shire Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday Ms Butler admitted mistakes had been made in letters sent out earlier in the year announcing the review.

She conceded initial briefing documents sent to parents, carers and councillors were "clumsy and inadequate" but she said the council was now on track to deliver firm recommendations to the cabinet.

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She pointed out some of the centres were "not fit for purpose" and others were at a third of their capacity.

At Tennyson Lodge in March there was space for 35 people daily, but on average only 24 attended. In Wisbech, at Victoria Lodge, there was room for 30 people daily with only 19 attending regularly.

The county council believes provision for those with learning disabilities has evolved from the days when they were institutionalised, and what is now required is a more proactive response, encouraging their greater involvement in the community and wider choices.

The council also believes that if voluntary groups take over the running of the centres they will have better and more successful opportunities to attract outside funding.

Ms Butler was emphatic that major changes must be made by the county council to deliver the Government's commitment to give more people with learning disabilities a wider choice in the level of service they receive.

She said the current plan was to invite the voluntary sector to take over either the buildings or running of the services on a town-by-town basis, but before changes were made every user of the day centres would be given one-to-one interviews and assessments made of their needs.

By using the voluntary sector, she said, people could have wider choices and be in receipt of payments to fund those requirements.

"We are not proposing to stop services," said Ms Butler. "We are proposing to provide them in a different way. We wish to build on and develop the changes that have happened to date."

She said a new opportunities partnership would be set up to bring together organisations and other possible service providers to ensure those with learning disabilities received a comprehensive service from 2009, the date of the proposed changes.

The council said that it had received 62 letters or emails - including letters from three MPs - commenting on the earlier proposals.

Ms Butler said changes must be made, however, since younger adults were "voting with their feet" and not using day care centres.

"But this process has never been about closure or costs - it's been about choice.

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